Authors: Noelle August
To my parents, Pearl and Arnold Oberweger, for prizing playfulness, culture, intelligence, and familyâand for giving me my first typewriter.
I love and miss you every day.
For my MusesâDonna, Katy, Talia, Bretâwith all my gratitude.
rey, wake up.”
I swim through the blue water, following my leash to my surfboard, wondering why I hear my brother's voice. Adam sounds pissed. Maybe this dream is going to tip toward a nightmare.
“Get your pathetic ass up!” he yells, and shoves my shoulder.
I move closer to consciousness, and wish I hadn't. My head feels like a shaken soda can about to explode. I'm drooling, my neck is bent at a painful angle, and my eyes are welded shut.
Adam keeps badgering me to get up. I should face what I've done wrong.
What have I done wrong?
But right now breathing without getting sick is taking my entire focus.
“Is that how you want to do this?” Adam asks.
I listen to him stalk away, then I hear the faucet run in the kitchen before he stalks back. This can't be good.
“Are you sure?” That's Ali's voiceâhis superhot girlfriend. “You'll ruin the couch, Adam.”
“Already ruined,” he says.
Forcing my eyes open, I see him standing over me with an ice bucket. I shoot off the couch, but it's too late. The entire bucket comes down on me. The cold shock stops my heart. Every muscle in my body goes tight.
“What the hell, Adam! What was that for?”
Water drips down my arms and chest and puddles at my feet. I peel off my soaked shirt and drop it in the bucket.
“What was that for,” he repeats. “Is that a serious question, Grey?” He sets the bucket down. “Are you
asking me that?”
In the foggy morning, the living room has a blurred, gauzy look, but my brother's immune to it. In his tailored sport coat, white-button down, and dark jeans, he looks sharp, like he has his own personal hi-def photo filter. Even his hair, which he's been wearing longer since he started dating Alison, is styled perfectly. Ali stands beside him in a tight red dress and tan heels. Way hot. Together, they're like a living Burberry ad, except classier.
“What are you guys doing here?” I'm still trying to make a full adjustment from dead asleep to freezing and awake. “I thought you were coming home Wednesday.” They were in Colorado for a long, long weekend.
“I had to come home early for work,” Adam says. “It's this crazy thing mature adults do.”
That begs for counter on what “mature adults do,” but this doesn't feel like the time. “Right.”
“What the hell did you do to your head?”
“Tequila shots. Five, I think.” He's giving me a funny look, so I reach up and touch bare scalp. “Oh, you mean
. Titus and I shaved our heads last night.”
on them with
?” Ali says.
“No, we did that ourselves. We wanted to beat people to it, so we drew skulls on our skulls. Funnyâ
.Â .Â .â
Ali fights a smile.
Adam looks like he wants to choke me. “No. Not funny. Are you
? Can you even see what's happened here?” He gestures around him, at the living room.
Finally, I do start to see.
His house is ridiculously swag. At the end of a private cul-de-sac right on the sand in Malibu, it's mostly glass, leather, and expensive wood from Bali or Nepal or something. It oozes style, sexiness. It's the kind of place that's all over home decorating magazines, and what you'd expect from a guy who starts successful businesses as casually as he drops into a wave on a surfboard. Except his house looks a little different this morning.
A girl in a short black skirt is asleep on the leather chair to my right. Nice legs. A coating of party debrisâcups, crushed chips, peanuts, and beer cansâcovers the coffee table and floor. Over on the kitchen island, heaps of liquor bottles, beer cans, Solo cups, andâwhat the hell is that? A person? Okay. Someone's asleep on the counter. That's bad.
Floor-to-ceiling windows give me an unobstructed view of the patio, which is crowded with more passed-out people. Four lucky girls took the chaise lounge chairs, and they're huddled underâ
.Â .Â .â
That's Adam's comforter. On the deck, more people, piled up like it's a refugee camp, andâ .Â .Â .â â
. Is that homeless-looking dude wearing Adam's blue Armani?
It's only then I notice I'm not looking through glass. The door is gone. Just .Â .Â . gone.
“What happened to the glass door, Grey?”
In a flash, I remember what happened and cringe. This isn't going to go well, but honesty's the only real choice here. “It's in the trash. We were dancing and it got crowded. The dancing got, umâ
.Â .Â .â
âEnthusiastic? And the glass broke. But I cleaned it up. No one got hurt.”
“How would you know, Grey? How could you
No blood? No police report? No ER visit? Not good answers. Adam's not waiting around for one, anyway.
He disappears down the hall and comes back a minute later with a shirt, which he throws at me. “Put that on. And pull your goddamn shorts up.”
Whoops. I'm almost giving Alison a look at the family jewels. “Sorry, Ali,” I mutter. I shrug into the shirt and tie the drawstring on my basketball shorts.
Ali gives me a quick smile back. “It's okay, Grey.”
“Walk.” Adam motions toward the hallway. “Let's see what we're dealing with.”
What happens next is a tour of the house, Adam leading, Ali and me following. A damage assessment, basically. There are cups all over the place. Crushed chips. Spills. I mean, the mess is pervasive. It's everywhere. But there are highlights, for sure.
In Adam's room, we discover six people asleep on his bed. Four girls, two guys. In his bathtub, which is padded with towels, we find a coupleânot so asleep. In my room, there are no people but somehow Adam's stationary bike is on my bed, which makes me laugh, which is the wrong thing to do, judging by the dark glare my brother gives me.
The weight room looks bad. Another broken window. The theater room looks worse. His fancy TV has some kind of drink splattered down the screen. Or, actually, that could be puke.
Adam sends people home as we move room to room. Ali peels away and comes back with a trash bag. It breaks my heart a little when she starts to pluck cans and cigarette butts off counters and floors.
“Ali, here. Let me do that,” I say, taking the bag. We're back to the living room now, and everyone is gone. The house is empty except for the three of us.
Adam stands in front of the missing glass door, the Pacific steel-colored behind him. He looks from me to his beautiful girlfriend, who's picking up party funk in her dress and heels, his expression going through a cycleâexasperation, anger, and disappointment.
And I finally get it. I screwed up. Big time.
“It was just supposed to be the guys in the band,” I say.
It's the truth. With Adam and Ali gone, I had my band, Welkin, over to practice last night. Which was what we did for a few hours. We sounded amazing; it was one of our best jam sessions to date. Maybe our best.
That's what got me so fired upâkicking ass. Feeling like something special was happening, like I was born to be the front man of a bandâand not just any band.
one. These guys, who'd showed up in my life by accident. A few months back, they lost their original singer to appendicitis for a couple of weeks. I'd only partied with them before, which was how they heard me sing. I was drunk off my ass one night when Titus strummed the opening riff to “L.A. Woman,” just messing around, and the spirit of Jim Morrison possessed me.
Their original singer lost his job that night.
And I became a difference-maker.